Repost: Reducing Communication Errors in Healthcare via Language Services

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

Communication errors are identified as a contributing factor in nearly thirty percent of medical malpractice claims. Miscommunication commonly occurs in:

  • Provider-provider interactions
  • Patient-provider encounters
  • Delivery of information/instructions
  • Conversations with caregivers


Communication breakdown is not limited to these instances. It can occur at any point when health-related information is shared. A recent study on malpractice risks in communication failures found:

  • 44% of communication errors occur within inpatient encounters
  • 48% in ambulatory instances &
  • 8% in emergency departments.


The study also found that 57% of errors occurred with communication between providers while 55% occurred with communication between patient and provider. Common causes of miscommunication include low health literacy, lack of informed consent, lack of actively listening to and considering the concerns of the patient, as well as the receipt of incorrect information surrounding the patient’s condition.

When passing healthcare information from one caregiver to the next, the risk for communication errors greatly increases. Miscommunication at the time of patient transfer is particularly dangerous in that it can result in delays in treatment, treatment error and/or longer length of stay. In fact, the Joint Commission considers miscommunication to be a contributing factor in nearly 80% of medical errors between caregivers at the time of patient transfer.

Limited health literacy and language proficiency in patients is often linked with the misunderstanding of healthcare information. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information”.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), close to 40% of adults in the United States have limited health literacy. Limited literacy patients are more likely to mistake medications, miss preventative care and disengage in care plans. Not surprisingly, linguistically diverse patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) are among the most vulnerable patient population when it comes to experiencing communication errors in healthcare.

Ways to improve health literacy for both English and non-English speaking patients include:

  • Providing simplified written materials
  • Providing a verbal explanation of healthcare information in a simplified, meaningful way that patients can understand
  • Avoiding the use of advanced medical terminology and jargon
  • Providing simplified translations of materials for LEP patients
  • Providing access to a qualified medical interpreter for further explanation of written materials and other healthcare information for LEP patients
  • Checking for patient understanding


The results of communication errors in healthcare can be detrimental to both the patient and the facility leading to inadequate care and patient harm. By simplifying both written and spoken communication of healthcare information and providing language services for the LEP patient population, providers can decrease the likelihood of communication errors. Click here to learn more about the role of communication in healthcare and the impact of language services on patient safety.

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